Are Pats soft against the run?
New Boston Globe Patriots writer Mike Reiss check in every Wednesday with his take on the Pats. Ask your question now, and come back next week to see if it was answered.
Much has been lamented about the loss of Tedy Bruschi and much planning went into replacing his position. The later loss of Ted Johnson may leave a more glaring hole, however. His unheralded play as a pure run-stopper and OG-buster may well be irreplaceable, given the current lineup. How will the Pats adapt their formula for stopping the run, in your opinion?
John, Dennis, Mass.
A: A lot of run defense questions came into the mailbag this week. There's no doubt Johnson was a solid run stuffer. Without avoiding the question, John, I think the Patriots will adjust their schemes to the strength of the personnel they have. And right now, the team is still learning exactly what it has at the inside linebacker position with Chad Brown and Monty Beisel. Bill Belichick likes his team to be multiple -- able to play the 3-4 or 4-3 at any point of a game -- and I would expect more of the same in 2005. The one change might be that the team plays more 4-3 than we saw in 2004.
With the departures of Romeo Crennel, Tedy Bruschi (hopefully, it's just for this season) and Ted Johnson, how concerned is the coaching staff about the team's run defense performance(s) at the midway point of the preseason?
John, Hampton, Conn.
A: Bill Belichick made the point on Tuesday that the team's run defense in its first two preseason games in 2004 was similar to this year's run defense through the first two preseason games. I'm sure there's some concern there, but the Patriots' staff is one of the best in the business, and my guess is that they are spending more time coaching their players than worrying about what they can't do.
When will we see Roman Phifer on the roster? We all know his name tag is still over his old locker.
Mike, Camp Victory, Iraq
A: Roman's locker, which is a coveted corner lot in the team's spacious quarters, was still intact as of Tuesday. So you're probably right, that it's only a matter of time before he's back. Roman did have some form of surgery on his shoulder this offseason, so it's likely a matter of when he's healthy enough to play.
How concerned should we be about the linebacker situation? The unit appeared a bit shaky in the preseason opener and I am having visions of the year they failed to reach the playoffs in terms of their difficulty against the run. Preparation wise, they should be able to be in position by the beginning of the season but they lack size as a group.
Brandon, Washington, DC
A: An old work crony once passed along some good advice: It's too early to panic in the preseason. That said, you do look for signs, and it's clear the team's inside linebacker spot is a work in progress. I'd give Chad Brown and Monty Beisel some more time there.
Even as Beisel and Brown improve as middle linebackers in the Patriots 3-4 scheme, as I expect they will, I would think Pioli and Belichick are still looking for ways to add depth there. Do you have any ideas of MLBs who might be released by other teams, before or at the final cut down, who might be attractive additions? Are there teams overflowing with MLBs the way we seem to be with CBs and receivers (if the latter ever get healthy as a group)?
Avida, Burlington, Vt.
A: Saints general manager Mickey Loomis made an interesting point about this last week, saying it's been harder and harder to find middle linebackers coming out of college in recent years. Belichick said something similar on the eve of the draft. So I don't think there are many teams overflowing at the position. As for who might become available, keep an eye on Mike Maslowski, who was released by the Chiefs on Tuesday. The Patriots had courted Maslowski as a restricted free agent a few years back, only to have the Chiefs match the offer. If Maslowski is healthy (he'll need about 3-4 weeks due to a bad knee), he could be someone the team targets.
Who do you think will make the cut at WR this year and will we see Troy Brown on both sides of the ball again?
A: My guess is that the team will keep six receivers (the same as 2004) to protect itself based on the injuries that have hit the position over the last two years. Deion Branch and David Givens are locks to make the roster, and I'll add Andre' Davis, David Terrell, Troy Brown and Tim Dwight as the final four. Since that leaves out third-year veteran Bethel Johnson and second-year man P.K. Sam, my guess is that the team will put both on the physically unable to perform list to keep their rights, which means they won't be available until Week 7 at the earliest. As for Troy Brown on both sides of the ball, Belichick said earlier this preseason that Brown likely won't play any defense in 2005. The reason Brown played there last year was because the team was thin at its slot cornerback spot, but Belichick feels the team has more depth there this year.
I was just wondering how Bethel Johnson was to be used in the offense this season as his name hasn't appeared much and the Pats are loaded at the receiving position.
A: Since Bethel has yet to practice after injuring his left ankle this offseason, it will be hard for him to break into the receiver rotation at this time. Once healthy, it looks like his role will be as a kickoff returner and insurance policy at receiver.
With only Vince Wilfork as a strong nose tackle, what will the Pats do should he become injured for more than a few weeks? At his size, I don't see Dan Klecko being able to hold up full time. Do you think they would switch to more of a 4-3, keep the 3-4 and rotate Richard Seymour and Ty Warren, or will they be trading for a stronger backup?
Dave, Londonderry, NH
A: Dan Klecko seems to be more of a third-down rushing specialist at nose, not an early-down, stuff-the-run player there. If the team stays with the 3-4, my guess is that Ty Warren would play nose tackle in the event Wilfork couldn't suit up. But I think your thought about the team playing a 4-3 is a good one, and more likely than the team trading for another nose tackle.
With respect to the last two first-round picks by the World Champions, Logan Mankins and Ben Watson, which one do you think will have the best year?
Bradley, Birdsboro, Pa.
A: Mankins. So far, he's shown the consistency Bill Belichick is always looking for in rookies, meaning he's been on the field for every practice and game. Watson most definitely has the potential for a big year, but I see Mankins starting the full 16 games at left guard if he's healthy, while also potentially providing crucial depth behind Matt Light at left tackle.
Please tell Nick that we miss him. My question is one about the salary cap. I know Tom Brady took less money than Peyton Manning and all that, but it's still a huge chunk of change. How is that likely to hurt us down the road, like other teams that have spent big bonuses in the past (Washington and Tennessee to name two)? How long before we have to start cutting back on our premier players? And will the new TV contracts and the likely higher cap each team will have offer some help?
Mike, Washington, DC
A: Hi Mike. I'll make sure to pass along to Nick that you were asking for him; he's been especially supportive in helping get this new mailbag up and running. As for the questions, you nailed it. In my opinion, the new TV contracts are going to increase the salary cap, so the Patriots shouldn't run into major problems in the future despite some of the recent deals they gave to players like Brady, Mike Vrabel, Jarvis Green, etc. That point can be easily overlooked. I think the Patriots are very smart to lock up some key players right now before the cap increases and the salaries for players increase even more. It's sound management.
What are Kyle Eckel's chances of making the season opening roster and what is the status of his Navy commitments.
Chris, Great Mills, Md.
A: With roster spots at a premium, I'd say Kyle Eckel is a strong candidate for the eight-man practice squad more than the 53-man roster. Nick Cafardo has a nice story on Kyle in today's Globe that details some of his Navy commitments.
I noticed Ryan Claridge was put on injured reserve. Is he done for the year or do they expect him back?
A: Once a player is placed on injured reserve he is lost for the year. The team still has to count the player's salary against the salary cap, however.
While it's more than obvious that Logan Mankins will be broken in as a guard, is there any talk of his eventual move to tackle? A lot of folks had him pegged as an interior lineman in the pros, due to short-ish arms, but a lot of people said that about Matt Light, too. Any sense that, a couple years down the road, we'll be seeing him transition to RT or even LT with Light moving to RT? Also, which (if any) of the young safeties do you expect to eventually supplant Rodney Harrison -- James Sanders? Guss Scott?
John, Los Angeles
A: A lot to digest here, John, so we'll go to the bullet points to answer the questions.
Living in North Carolina, I don't get a full amount of Pats news. So what's the deal with Brady's arm, is this just the media making a big deal out of nothing? Or should we be concerned?
Neil, Greensboro, NC
A: One source recently insisted there is nothing wrong with Brady arm's and that it was a situation where the Patriots were taking an unconventional strategy toward the preseason. Also, Brady said earlier in training camp that his arm felt as strong as it ever has. Still, he hasn't been as sharp as he would like.
My question is about Tedy Bruschi. Can he come back this year? I know he is on the PUP list which is not the injured reserve list. I believe that makes him a possibility to return around midseason.
A: Tedy can come back because he is currently on the physically unable to perform list. That means there is a window between Week 6 and Week 9 where he could start practicing. Once he starts practicing, the team has 21 days to decide on whether to place him on the active roster. Would I be surprised if he returned? Yes. But the Patriots are a team that leaves all doors open, so your question is a good one.
What's your take on the tight end battle in camp? Is there any chance that Ben Watson will start? Is the brass disappointed in Daniel Graham's development? Is there room for Christian Fauria?
A: Great question, Dave, as the Patriots have really stocked the tight end position. Because the team runs so many multiple tight end sets, coupled with Benjamin Watson having some difficulties staying on the field due to injuries, I think the team will take the unconventional step of keeping four on the roster (Graham, Watson, Fauria, Jed Weaver). My feeling is that the Patriots would like Graham to be more consistent in the passing game, but they love his blocking.
With the coaching losses and linebacker losses, do you think that the Pats can possibly make it 4 out of 5? How long will Coach Belichick call the offensive plays this year? Do you think Tom Brady will be more directly involved with calling his own plays?
Susie and Mike, Salem
A: Hi Susie and Mike. I think the Patriots are in as good a position as any team in the league to make a run at that fourth Super Bowl title. As for the play-calling, we actually can't even confirm that Belichick is calling the plays (he's never said it, and it hasn't looked like he has on the sidelines in the first two preseason games). It looks to me like quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels is the primary play-caller right now. I'm sure Brady has plenty of input leading in the game.
Didn't Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe not part ways on the best of terms? I seem to remember during his first camp under Pete Carroll, Bledsoe talking about how much happier and more comfortable he was. It seemed like he never liked Parcells' autocratic style. Maybe he's matured, but do you really think that relationship can last in Dallas?
Jason, Salida, Colo.
A: My feeling at the time was that Drew wasn't a huge fan of Bill's prodding style and was happy to work with someone with a more upbeat approach. But now, as time passed and his career went through some ups and downs, my guess is that Drew's perspective on Parcells has changed. In my opinion, that relationship will last because both need each other -- Parcells to get the Cowboys to the point he wants, and Drew to get his career back in the right direction.
What's the difference ideally between kickoff returners and punt returners (if any)? I've seen explosiveness from guys like Ellis Hobbs, and have been trying to figure out how special teams figures into who makes or doesn't make this team (Tim Dwight, Chad Morton, etc.). Are there two spots here for players that are primarily just returners, or just one?
A: The major difference between a kickoff returner and punt returner is that they are catching the ball in much different situations. Punt returning, in my opinion, is a bit tougher because you are often catching the ball in traffic or in tight spots. I'd say there are multiple spots on the roster for returners, provided those players can add value in other areas.
What are the chances that Don Davis doesn't make the team this year? At cornerback, is Chad Scott going to be the odd man out?
David, New York City
A: Davis was playing with the first-string special teamers against the Saints, which I took as a sign he'll be on the roster. Chad Scott is on the bubble, he could sneak in as the 52nd or 53rd player, or might be cut depending on how the Patriots structure their roster.